Reach the right people at the right time with the right message
We all know someone who always seems to be in pain - a bad back, a bum knee, a shoulder that doesn’t move quite right. Their pain never seems to go away, it’s almost part of their personality, who they are. These folks - friends, neighbors, relatives - suffer from chronic pain. And chronic pain is a big deal.
Nearly ⅕ of US adults suffer from chronic pain - that’s about 50 million people.
Chronic pain costs the US economy $635 billion a year in medical costs, lost wages, lower worker productivity and absenteeism.
Also, it has pile-on effects. People in chronic pain are more likely to be depressed and/or suffer from anxiety, hypertension and high cholesterol.
It’s a problem - exacerbated by a lack of effective treatments - caused, at least in part by a lack of funding for research.
To help these millions of people, the U.S. needs to allocate significant funds for additional research. But that won’t happen unless many more people come to care about chronic pain research and become willing to do something about it.
Dividing Audiences: One step in building a mass movement
Greg Carbonetti, a pain scientist, conducted and analyzed a nationally representative survey about the public’s perceptions of chronic pain, with other scholars from the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism.
Greg’s work was undertaken during his time as the Alda Center’s Civic Science Fellow in Chronic Pain, funded by the Rita Allen Foundation. The work aimed to lay a foundation for future outreach and engagement efforts. You can read Greg’s full report here.
But there’s a long way to go between understanding perceptions of an issue and building a movement - the pink ribbon for breast cancer didn’t pop up everywhere overnight, after all.
If we’re trying to build public awareness - for breast cancer, chronic pain or really anything else - we have to understand an audience. As my friends in marketing and communications say, if your audience is everyone, you’re reaching no one. This is where audience segmentation comes in.
Audience segmentation is the idea that you reach out to particular groups of people, inviting them into a conversation, engaging them and, hopefully, being guided by them. But before you can reach out to those groups, you have to find them.
In the case of the pink ribbon, efforts started with cosmetics companies. In a very gender-biased - and incredibly effective - effort, Estee Lauder agreed to put the ribbons at every cosmetics counter in every store in the country. A movement was born.
Greg and his colleagues identified a few different audiences, then went a step further. They ranked these audiences to suggest which ones may be most willing and able to join a movement and advocate for chronic pain research and chronic pain sufferers. They did this through a nationally representative survey (again, read the full report).
Potential Audience No. 1: Frontline Fighters
These folks tend to be either younger people who suffer from chronic pain themselves or caregivers - that is, people responsible for helping those with chronic pain. These two groups tend to be younger, have better overall quality of physical and mental health, feel a greater sense of urgency about chronic pain, and, perhaps most importantly, say they are willing to do something about it.
Potential Audience No. 2: Pain-Free Populists
The people in this segment are already actively supporting other health causes and tend to be more health-conscious themselves. Based on the survey, they tend to empathize with people who suffer from chronic pain and, therefore, may be willing to engage somehow with the issue.
Communications folks talk a lot about the importance of knowing your audience. Audience segmentation is one more useful tool in getting to know that audience. The work around chronic pain still has a long way to go - particularly with the complications posed by the ongoing opioid epidemic - but knowing who we may be talking to is one more step to building the movement that so many researchers, patients, and caregivers are eager to see take shape.